Ostura - Ashes of the reborn 4/5

Reviewed: 2-1-13





Tracklist:

1. A warrior’s tale
2. Sword of erus
3. King’s crowning
4. Hills of glory
5. Tears of paradise
6. The gathering
7. Infernal hymn
8. Ashes of the reborn


Heavy metal from Lebanon, it surprised me when I saw where this power metal band hailed from. Not that the Lebanese people do not like heavy metal, but the pure religious and political factor basically handicapping metal music. According to a news article from the “Al Arabiya News”, that 3000 CDs are banned in Lebanon without any explanation, international metal artists are not allowed in Lebanon and for any Lebanese metal bands, they have to go to the authorities for permission to do basically anything. Lebanese fans can’t even buy certain metal CDs via legal downloading and mail, and Lebanese bands struggle to send their material out of the country either.

Since censorship began in Lebanon in 1996 (after the son of a high ranking Lebanese official committed suicide and later found out that he was a fan of metal), metalheads have been arrested for having long hair. My thoughts exactly, WTF? indeed. The fact is heavy metal can touch everybody anywhere. It can reach even the most anti-metal countries on the globe and it just goes to show how popular this style of music is. While I am disappointed that this kind of censorship still exists in parts of the world today, as it just comes down to fear, ignorance and a lack of knowledge, I am glad to be living in a country that allows me the freedom to listen to whatever I want. All metalheads around the world are in the Lebanese metal fans corner, hoping that this unnecessary censorship will come to an end. But until then, Lebanese metal bands are standing defiant and continue to make the music they love. One such band is Ostura, whose exciting debut CD is beginning to make its way around the world.

Ostura’s debut release is called ‘Ashes of the reborn’, a metal opera (a la Avantasia and Soulspell) and the first of its kind in the Middle East. Making up the band is bassist Jack Hayek, drummer Chris Naimeh, keyboardist Danny Bou-Maroun, guitarist Elie Hnien, and vocalists Youmna Jreissati and Elia Monsef. At the time of this review, guitarist Elie Hnien has since left the band after the release of the CD and has been replaced by Alain Ibrahim. There are also a number of session musicians that play on ‘Ashes of the reborn’, which includes a quartet choir, 2 vocalists, an acoustic guitarist, another keyboardist and a violinist. The CD was composed by Danny Bou-Maroun and Elie Hnien, while the lyrics were penned by Chris Naimeh. Lastly ‘Ashes of the reborn’ was recorded, mixed, mastered and produced by Karim Sinno in his studio.

While they base their metal opera on the stylings of early Avantasia, musically Ostura are more progressive than Avantasia. The band’s influences that helped them create the melodic symphonic power metal that is ‘Ashes of the reborn’ are quite broad indeed; ranging from Rhapsody of Fire, Stratovarius and Symphony X, to classical composers such as John Williams and Howard Shore (The Lord of the Rings). Being a metal opera, obviously this CD is also a concept album; with the story about a chosen hero trying to restore order and peace to a land that has delved in chaos and decay thanks to a powerful tyrant who must be overthrown.

The opening track “A warrior’s tale” has a wonderful catchiness and heaviness that it instantly grabs your attention. Whilst this track is not symphonic in the slightest and basically hard-edged European power metal, I was surprised by the quality of the production and the excellent axe-handling skills of Elie Hnien. The riffs are strong, crunchy and appealing; while I also like the power and delivery of session vocalist Tony Ghanem (who plays the hero character Galeron). “Sword of erus” begins the symphonic bombardment in an epic track that takes you on a rollercoaster ride of emotion, containing soft passages with piano and violin and then melodic power metal sections with band and choir in full voice. Ghanem’s voice is in full strength but also quite tender in parts as well, adding further passion to the brilliant song, while one of the additional vocalists, Elia Monsef (the Druid) also sings very well, with his melodic vocals soaring high to the heavens with grace and precision.

“On hills of glory” is fairly straightforward, but a catchy track containing a vocal duel between Ghanem and Monsef; both singers giving their all in an emotional performance. Following the next 2 tracks (a ballad and semi-ballad), we get to the rampaging “Infernal hymn”, which starts off with a crushing guitar riff and pounding drums before Ghanem’s raspy vocals continues with the song’s opening dark tinge. The choirs make a welcome return during the symphonic song and we are introduced to the villain of the story (the Tyrant, played by Etienne Chelala), who sings in a death/black metal style. “Infernal hymn” is one of the better tracks on the CD and also one of the heaviest.

“Ashes of the reborn” is the final track on the CD, which sees basically every vocalist in the band lending their voices, choir and all, behind the epic backdrop of pulsating and emotional symphonic melodic metal. Just short of 10 minutes in length, this bombastic track could rival any Hollywood movie score and also give Tuomas Holopainen a run for his money. Once the track is over you are left with silence and that is the worst part of this CD. All is not lost, however, because you can just press play and start the journey all over again.

Overall, I was completely taken back by the awesomeness of this CD and all the passion and exuberance that went into putting it all together. While the release dipped slightly in the middle, for the majority ‘Ashes of the reborn’ is of a high quality and equal to (if not better) than Brazilian symphonic power metal band Soulspell’s metal opera CDs. Although the CD may not have the overall gloss and polish of an Avantasia CD... yet, the band more than makes up for it with heart; and that is really important. Let’s not forget that this CD is Ostura’s debut effort and when taking that into consideration, you gotta give these guys a round of applause. Fans of any metal opera CDs both mentioned and not mentioned here will need to immediately jump on this as you will not be disappointed, while fans of both epic symphonic, power and melodic metal; this one is a no-brainer. Ostura, well done and keep waving that Lebanese flag high for metal!



SEAN




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